Kochi: Two-time runners-up Kerala Blasters are all set for the sixth season of the Indian Super League (ISL) with a revamped squad and a new coach at the helm.
With the signing of former NorthEast United FC goalkeeper T P Rehenesh, the number of new players who were roped in by Blasters for the upcoming season has gone up to eleven.
The Kochi-based franchise come into the new season looking to bounce back after a disappointing campaign last year, which saw them languishing at ninth in the 10-team league with just two wins and nine draws in 18 matches in the league stage.
They have spent big and brought in several top stars, both Indian and overseas, who have prior experience of playing in the ISL. With a new coach at the helm and a fresh approach, the Yellow Brigade believe that they can redeem themselves this season.
Former NorthEast United FC coach Eelco Schattorie, who has a decent track record in the ISL, is their new gaffer.
Let’s take a look at the new recruits of Kerala Blasters:
Bartholomew Ogbeche (34)
A lot will be expected from this Nigeria-born Frenchman, who proved his credentials as a lethal striker for NorthEast United FC last year. Ogbeche, who was the fifth edition’s joint second highest goal-scorer with 12 goals from 18 appearances, played a vital role in Highlanders progressing to the play-offs. With several years of top-flight football under his belt, the former Paris Saint Germain goal-getter will be key to Blasters’s title aspirations.
Mario Arques (27)
The poor show by Blasters last year could be attributed to their uninspiring and pedestrian options in midfield. Going into the new season, the Yellow Brigade have added more firepower to their midfield by signing former Jamshedpur FC star Mario Arques. The Spaniard, who spent most of his professional career in his country’s third-tier league, will certainly bring a ton of experience to the Kochi outfit.
Sergio Cidoncha (28)
Arques’s partner in Blaster’s midfield will be fellow Spaniard and former Jamshedpur teammate Cidoncha. On paper, this is Blasters’s best midfield combination as compared to that of previous seasons. He will be seen dictating the flow of the game from the centre of the field along with local lad and ISL’s ‘emerging player’ for the 2018-19 season, Sahal Abdul Samad.
Mouhamadou Moustapha Gning (30)
This will be the Senegalese central midfielder’s ISL debut. Previously, he has as played for clubs like SD Ejea, Lleida Esportiu, CD Ebro, SD Amorebieta, CD Sariñena, UD Logroñés and Andorra CF.
T P Rehenesh (26)
The Calicut-born shot-stopper was in incredible form for NUFC in the last couple of seasons. He made the highest of saves by any goalkeeper in the 2015 edition and also secured four clean sheets the same year, the most number by an Indian goalkeeper. Before joining NUFC, he had played for East Bengal, Mumbai Tigers, Shillong Lajong, Rangdajied United and ONGC.
Bilal Hussain Khan (24)
Bilal, who manned the goal for Real Kashmir FC, was the best goalkeeper of the I-League 2018-19 season. He has also played for Gokulam Kerala FC and FC Pune City.
Gianni Zuiverloon (32)
The Dutch centre-back is another notable signing by Blasters. The sturdy defender, who played an integral role at the heart of Delhi Dynamos's defence last year, will be the pillar of strength in Blasters’s backline. His former clubs include Premier League side West Brom, La Liga side Mallorca, and Feyenoord, RKC Waalwijk and Heerenveen.
K P Rahul (19)
The talented youngster, who plays as a forward or a right winger, was part of the national team which played in the FIFA under-17 World Cup in 2017. The Thrissur-born Rahul also played for All India Football Federation developmental side Indian Arrows, in the I-League for two seasons. He has scored six goals from 39 matches for Arrows.
Shibin Raj Kuniyil (26)
Former Gokulam FC goalkeeper, Shibin Raj also had a one-year stint with Mohun Bagan in 2016, where he made three appearances for them. A native of Kozhikode, he made eleven appearances for Gokulam FC in last season’s I-League and also captained them in the first few matches. Shibin will be the fourth goalkeeper on Blasters’s roster for the upcoming season.
Zayed bin Waleed (17)
The Dubai-based Calicut-born midfielder has been tipped by the Blasters faithful to become a top player in the future. He was among the probables for the Indian team for the FIFA U-17 World Cup but could not make the cut after being deemed too young. He was part of different age-group squads of Al-Ethihad Sports Academy and Al-Jazira FC in the UAE.
Lovepreet Singh (20)
Young goalkeeper Lovepreet Singh joined Blasters on a free transfer from Indian Arrows. He is an exciting prospect for the Blasters and is one for the future.